Poul Hansen: “If you want to succeed at Goldman Sachs you need a high IQ, but what sets people apart is their EQ”

Poul, 25, just finished an almost three years stint with Goldman Sachs – arguably the most prestigious finance company in the world. We sat down with Poul to hear about his experience working at Goldman Sachs In London and his advice for any students that are considering a career in Finance.


A bit about your background?


“I was fortunate enough to get accepted into International Business at CBS back in 2011. I have always had an interest in finance and economics – especially macroeconomics and I felt IB was the perfect combination. While studying I managed to get a student position with Danske Bank which helped me define my profile and definitely helped me get into Goldman. Having a student position while studying is super valuable and something I would recommend to anyone. During the fall in 2012 I applied for a summer internship with Goldman Sachs in their sales & trading division which resulted in a full time offer as an analyst where I have now spent the last two and a half years”.


Why Goldman Sachs?


“I was eager to get more practical experience working in finance outside of Denmark – so I started to research all the big banks in London. There were a few things about Goldman that made them stand out for me. I liked that the company was a bit ‘smaller’ and had a bit more focus around certain areas within finance – for example compared to retail banks like Citibank or Deutsche Bank. I also read a lot about the various banks and I felt that Goldman Sachs was the company where my own personal beliefs and values were best aligned. Finally I was attracted by the fact that the bank had a very strong brand but also with a big focus on diversity and giving back to the local community. In the end I only applied for the internship with Goldman and was fortunate enough to get in”.


Describe your experience as a Summer Analyst?


“I went through a bunch of interviews, the first ones conducted via phone and the final ones conducted in London, and ended up starting in June in their sales and trading division in London. The whole experience as a summer analyst was super tough but very rewarding. You get placed into your team and then need to help them and add value from day one. In the beginning you do a lot of ad hoc stuff, but after some time you start to do more complicated analysis around the fx market. The financial market is very regulated and a lot of the tasks that the full time employees are doing requires licenses which limits the actual tasks you can do.


A big part of the internship is also about networking with the people working in the bank and get to know the different teams. Ultimately it will be the teams that you work with and interact with that will give you the full time offer – so it’s very important to provide people with a good impression of yourself, both through delivering solid work but also by interacting with the teams.


To some degree the summer internship is about selling yourself in the best possible way – this is not very Danish and I found it a bit difficult in the beginning, but you get used to it after a while. However it’s important to be yourself, some people were too eager trying to promote them self rather than the work they had done. In that regards quality definitely beats quantity. Anyway, after a bit of back and forth I ended up receiving a full time offer as an analyst within FX sales which was the place I preferred to work”.


What did you do in Sales & Trading?


“I was placed in the Nordic FX sales team covering Scandinavia together with two Swedish guys.  Very simplified then my responsibility was to execute currency deals for our clients. We are the middle man between the client (buyer) and the trader (seller). So if a company needs e.g. $100 million we would find the trader and buy the amount and sell it to the client. Because you work so close with the client having a good relationship with both the company and the trader is essential – which is also why I would try and visit our clients as frequently as possible.


“After a while you could end up with your own portfolio of companies that you were in charge of – so you basically own your own P&L within the company. It’s therefore also pretty clear to see who is performing well and who is not performing so well. In general there is a lot of transparency around performance and it’s a very high performing culture I would say. One of the managers at Goldman once told me that in order to be successful at sales and trading you need to be a bit paranoid to ensure that you are always on your toes – I think everyone that has worked in this industry can relate to that.”


Canary Wharf is the financial HQ in London and Europe where Poul spent 2.5 years working for Goldman Sachs


How would you describe the learning curve?


“Super steep. In the beginning you don’t really have a clue about anything. Which is kind of the point because they want people to digest a lot of new information fast. The colleagues are also really helpful and are happy to help if you have any questions. One of the first areas you really build up your knowledge within is the market and the products that we sell – which enables you to have meaningful conversations with clients and colleagues. Despite being in the finance industry – a lot of the skills you learn are soft skills around how to engage with clients and build up strong relationships. This is one of the areas I can feel that I have made the biggest improvements compared to when I started. Over time and if you prove you are capable you will also get a lot of responsibility and have your own portfolio of clients.”


How would you rate Goldman Sachs versus consulting or graduate programs?


“That’s very difficult for me to answer. I know that the learning curve is super steep at Goldman Sachs, but I assume it is as well at e.g. Top tier consulting companies or top graduate programmes. I guess it depends on what you are more passionate about. I was tempted to look into consulting firms but was a bit afraid I would end up doing a lot of PowerPoint slides in the beginning and decided not to apply for any consulting companies.”


“Because Goldman is a very recognised brand you also have pretty good opportunities if you decide to pursue something else in your career. Probably more so outside of Denmark than in Denmark as there are fewer opportunities within e.g. FX Sales. A lot of the top MBAs also recognise experience at a bank like Goldman so if you want to go down that route after having worked some years that is also a possibility”.


What does it take to succeed at Goldman Sachs in your opinion?


“This probably sounds simple, but the people who advanced the fastest were people who had developed deep knowledge within their fields. You really need to understand your products and markets at a granular level and always be curious to learn. You also need a high EQ – you need to be a very strong communicator and understand how to build genuine relationships with colleagues and clients. Almost all of the people I have interacted with at my time in Goldman were in general nice people and incredible helpful. I think these traits are even more important for the very senior people at Goldman like MD’s and Partners.


What is the best learning from your time at Goldman?


“I have learned an incredible amount of stuff but the key thing that I will take away is my work ethic. You really learn to appreciate the work that you do and I’m very proud of the work and results I have achieved at Goldman Sachs. It’s very satisfying to see that hard work pays off – not just individually but also for the company and the clients. I’m sure I will be able to take my work ethic  with me wherever I go”.


Any advice for potential applicants applying to Goldman?


This is obviously only my advice and I strongly recommend everyone to do a thorough research of the company before applying, but below are some things I would highlight as being important:


  • Highlight how your profile is a match with the company’s values and culture
  • Be honest about your results and achievements
  • Highlight aspects that makes you unique to other applicants – Goldman receives so many applications from top students that grades is not always enough
  • Look at you career from a wider perspective not just career wise – but your life in general and make sure that is reflected in your application
  • Highlight any leadership achievements and responsibilities – this could be student council president, mentor etc.


What is the interview process like?


“Very broadly speaking then it is a mixture of very technical questions and fit questions. So you obviously need to understand your role, market and product really well, besides being generally knowledgeable about the finance industry. For the interviews that are focused on you as a person, you really just have to be yourself. In one of my interviews I ended up speaking about football as the interviewer was a Liverpool fan I am a Manchester United fan. We connected around this discussion and it’s super important that they like you as a person and could imagine themselves working with you. One of the partners once told me that I would probably end up spending more time with my colleagues than my girlfriend so it’s important that you really like them”.


You can see careers at Goldman Sachs here



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